Defend Freedom of Expression; Protest Imminent Prosecution of Sexual Rights Scholar/Activist

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission forwards and endorses this petition to protect academic freedom and freedom of expression on the internet in Taiwan. Professor Josephine Ho, founder of the Center for the Study of Sexualities at National Central University in Taipei, is soon to be prosecuted under criminal charges as a result of actions by a new-right coalition of Catholic and conservative women's groups. This backlash against Professor Ho is, no doubt, inspired by her groundbreaking work on the academic study of sexuality as well as her activism in defense of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders; sex workers; and women during the past decade.

FORWARDED PETITION

Protecting a Free Space for Academic Research and Internet Freedom of Expression--urgent call to protest prosecution of leading Taiwanese feminist sex radical/scholar Taiwan's democratization has long been a source of pride for both its government and its people. However, in the very process of democratization, we have increasingly experienced a constriction on freedom of speech regarding sex-related issues. What distinguishes this trend of constriction from the political dictatorship that we lived under in the past is that it is appealing to notions of "compelling mainstream opinions” or “the majority of the people,” invoking the most conservative brand of moralism, and kindling irrational fear and panic in people. “Children and juveniles will be exposed to harmful influences” has now become the most common and inviolable principle that is used to restrict people’s freedom of speech and thought. Whether any demonstrable causal links have been proven or whether this theory has any scientific basis has never been questioned. What is even more deplorable is that even academic work that focuses on marginal subjects and marginal phenomena has not escaped the clutches of this trend of constriction. Political profiteers, media sensationalists and moral police agents have not hesitated to take advantage of this moralism to exert pressure on the public. Through budget-monitoring, supervision of policy-makers, media reportage, these groups have effectively blocked the transmission of information and views by or about people who are different from themselves, silencing all alternative voices and putting the fear of censorship into the hearts of all. The events surrounding the banning of the hyperlinks to bestiality on the website of National Central University’s Center for the Study of Sexualities are but one rather conspicuous example among many. In April, conservative groups (including Child Protective Committee in Printed Matters, (Christian) Garden of Hope, End Child Prostitution And Trafficking Taiwan, Catholic Good Shepherd Sisters) brought these links to the attention of the general public through sensational media reportage in a concerted effort to discredit and defame Professor Josephine Ho, founder and director of this center. In response to pressure from the Ministry of Education and the University following public concern over the issue, Prof. Ho complied and removed these links from the Center’s website. On June 23, the above-mentioned NGOs regrouped in a more focused attack on Prof. Ho by filing a lawsuit, in conjunction with other conservative education groups (such as Taipei City Parent and Teacher Association) charging her with “propagating obscenities that corrupt traditional values and may cause a bad influence on children and juveniles.” The groups also urge that she be dismissed from her teaching position because even though she removed the links she has not shown proper repentance for her actions. In the remarkably candid words of one spokesperson of the charges against her, this is a case of “sacrificing a chicken to reform the monkeys.” Prof. Ho is being targeted for a decade of sex positive activism, including writing and speaking in support of as well as struggling with gays and lesbians, sex workers, inter-generational couples, transsexual and transgender subjects, betel nut beauties, etc. Beginning with her rallying cry “we want orgasms not sexual harassment” at the first anti-sexual harassment march in 1994 in Taipei, Prof. Ho has been consistently effective and influential in the larger public sphere. As a result of her efforts and her willingness to take up stigmatized subjects in the public eye, most notably the Taipei licensed prostitutes struggle from 1997-9, and more recently the fight against police entrapment of minors and sexual services arranged over the internet, her name has actually become a household word. She has consequently also been the target of an escalating conservative backlash that has finally culminated in this lawsuit, brought against her personally by a coalition of forces from religious groups, child-protection conservative groups to opportunistic politicians. Prof. Ho is a prominent figure on her campus, attracting large numbers of students to her classes and to Central University. She has published 10 books in the fields of sexuality and education (she holds two Ph.D.s, one in education and one in English) and is well known among Asian feminists outside of Taiwan. She is currently a visiting scholar abroad. And it has been during the course of her first prolonged absence from Taiwan in the past ten years that these defamations and legal prosecutions have been taking place. The legal actions against Prof. Ho have far-reaching impact on not just the teaching and research of sexuality, sexology and sexuality related issues and subjects on campus, but also on the emergent LGBT and sex workers movement in Taiwan as well as the increasing policing and censorship of sexuality on the internet. Taking recourse to legal action against one of the most outspoken advocates of sexual minorities and dissident sexualities is symbolic of a will to sabotage and obstruct the progress that non-normative sexual subjects in Taiwan have struggled for over the past years. It is above all symbolic of a will to dishearten and prevent public action against sexual inequality. A closed, intolerant social structure is never what a pluralist society needs, and it deviates from the course of democratization of Taiwan. As academic researchers and internet users, we urge our fellow-citizens to respect internationally recognized basic human rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and to respect Others and the right of Others to express their views in the culture, and to preserve a space where people can be rationally educated about Other subjects. We urge National Central University to refute conservative groups’ effort to intervene and supervise academic research through demanding Professor Ho’s removal from her position; after all, an outstanding researcher and educator is the most precious asset for any university and should never be sacrificed to appease irrational phobia. We also urge Taiwanese government officials to fight against the violence of populist moralism and preserve the integrity and autonomy of academic research and internet freedom of expression so that they will not set back the progress of liberalization and democratization in Taiwan. Petitioning Organizations: Taiwan, Province of China: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies, Gender and Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan (LGBT and sexual rights advocacy group), Taiwan Association For Human Rights , COSWAS (prostitutes’ rights group), Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association (gay and lesbian rights group), Persons With HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association, Kao-Hsiung Women’s Action Association, Taipei Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights Protection, Kao-Hsiung Normal University Center for Sex/Gender Education, Hsing-chu Fengcheng Community College, Hsing-chu Qing-cao Lake Community College The Undersigned: Title: Institution: Contact Information: Please email to queerlas@ms21.hinet.net or fax to 886-2-82510106, Gender and Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

A coalition of new-right conservative forces in Taiwan have been trying to silence Professor Josephine Ho since 1997, when she helped sex workers fight for labor rights, which the religious women's groups helped the Taipei mayor terminate. During the past six years, these groups have been aggressively establishing various legislations regarding the dissemination of sexual information and sexual contact on the internet. As the new government needed every bit of moral righteousness to consolidate its political legitimacy, the legislations went through almost effortlessly. Josephine Ho, heading the Center for Study of Sexualities and working with the NGO Gender/Sexualities Rights Association, has been one of the very few to articulate resisting discourses against their every move, and they must really want this big obstacle removed. Three weeks ago they brought a criminal lawsuit against Josephine Ho, claiming that she spread obscenities on the internet. The so-called obscenities referred to the hyperlinks to bestiality sites in the US, listed at the bottom of the Center's bestiality webpage, which includes writings by philosopher Peter Singer and translated discussions of bestiality as a historical form of sexual practice. The bestiality webpage was one of the more than 40 webpages (including various sexual practices such as homosexuality and fetishism) that we have been constructing on our website for sexuality studies. Last year, these groups have brought complaints against the webpages to the Ministry of Education, for "encouraging" sex work. They have clearly not given up on stopping Josephine Ho. This time, if the verdict is guilty, Josephine Ho would face a two-year prison term plus possible fines. Since April when the media first sensationalized this piece of news to the present time when the lawsuit has been officially filed, over a dozen gender/sexuality groups, human rights groups, and academic groups have issued a petition and 1200 people, mostly college intellectuals and professionals, have signed it to protest such travesty against our freedom of information and expression. We are hoping that our distinguished foreign friends could also add their names to the petition and help highlight the importance of this basic human right. It will also help exert some pressure on the legal system which has been urged along by the conservatives to make this case a lesson to all who might be interested in sexuality and rely on the internet for information and contact (the phrase used by the accusing parties is "killing the chicken to warn the monkeys"). The English petition page is finally up and we are hoping that you would consent to sign this petition as a demonstration of support for sex rights in Taiwan as well as a protest against those who wish to dampen such rights. The content of the petition follows, and if you could, please go to the website to sign it. And please help us disseminate this petition to people that you think might be concerned about sex rights. Thank you very much. The petition address: http://www.gsrat.org/eng/eindex.html

For your reference:

Josephine Ho's webpage http://sex.ncu.edu.tw/members/ho/jo_english.htm Center for the Study of Sexualities http://sex.ncu.edu.tw/english/EnglishCenterIntroduction.htm#About%20us